There were several important developments in employment law in 2015. These are some of the most significant.
Travel time can be ‘work time’
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that if employees don’t have a fixed place of work then the time they spend travelling from home to their first job of the day should be classed as work time.
The same principle applies to the time spent travelling back home after the last job of the day.
The ruling affects all companies in the European Union including the UK because it is based on the EU Working Time Arrangement. Of course, the ruling does not affect employees who have a fixed workplace.
Employers may wish to review their pay structures to ensure they are not breaching working time regulations.
Shared parental leave
The new system of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) allowing mothers and fathers to share 52 weeks’ leave came into effect on 5 April.
Under the SPL scheme, mothers are still required to take two weeks’ compulsory leave immediately after the birth, but the other 50 weeks can be shared between both parents. The benefits are also available to couples who adopt a child.
Parents can choose whether to take their leave simultaneously or take turns, or a mixture of the two. The leave must be taken in complete weeks.
Parents can take their leave in a continuous period but would have to negotiate with their employer if they wish to take leave in discontinuous periods. The employer doesn’t have to agree to a discontinuous leave period.
Ban on exclusive zero-hours contracts
The ban on exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts took effect on 26 May as part of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.
The measure was introduced because some firms, including recruitment agencies, had been using exclusivity clauses to prevent an individual from working for another employer, even if the firm had nothing to offer them for long periods.
It’s estimated that the ban will benefit the 125,000 zero-hours contract workers tied to exclusivity clauses.
Human Resources and disciplinary procedures
A case before the Court of Appeal focussed attention on the role of Human Resources in disciplinary procedures.
An employee who was sacked for gross misconduct won his appeal against dismissal after claiming that the officer investigating his case had been unduly influenced by the HR department.
The Appeal Court held that an investigating officer was entitled to call for advice from a human resources department but the department had to be very careful to limit advice essentially to questions of law, procedure and process. It had to avoid straying into areas of culpability. The department had clearly involved itself in issues of blame, which was outside its remit.
Review of Employment Tribunal fees
The government began a review of Employment Tribunal fees, which have proved highly controversial since they were introduced in 2013.
The new system quickly led to an 80% fall in claims, although there is some evidence that the figures are now starting to rise again.
The review is assessing several issues including the reasons for the reduction in the number of claims and whether there has been a significant take-up of alternative dispute resolution services. The review is still taking place. We shall keep clients informed of developments.
Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.